Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the way we make things by William McDonough and Michael Braungart

As part of our research into sustainable design, Dodo has been reading Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the way we make things by William McDonough and Michael Braungart.

In this book the authors, Braungart (a chemist) and McDonough (an architect), put forward compelling arguments for changing the way in which we design and make the world around us. The authors approach is the need for change to reduce our environmental impact.

“Cradle to cradle” design aims to get designers thinking about the lifecycle of a product in a more sophisticated way – particularly, to think about the end of its life in broader terms than disposal or simply recycling. Under the theory, products circulate within technological society for as long as possible, through planned reuse of their components, before being recycled or used as food for new materials.

This kind of a design is still just as much a philosophy as it is a practice and is still in it’s early stages of conception. Dodo believes that merely questioning or challenging systems of distribution and consumption is a step in the right direction as McDonough and Braungart state “Taking an eco-effective approach to design might result in an innovation so extreme that it resembles nothing we know, or it might merely show us how to optimise a system already in place.” It’s not the solution itself that is necessarily radical but the shift in perspective with which we begin to question things that will have the most impact.

The book itself is an example of it’s own preaching – it does not contain a single ounce of paper! It is entirely made out of a fully recyclable plastic material, and the non-toxic ink can be removed with special non-toxic chemicals. A future example of a fully recyclable book design – Amazing!

Here is some more information from William McDonough’s website

William McDonough’s book, written with his colleague, the German chemist Michael Braungart, is a manifesto calling for the transformation of human industry through ecologically intelligent design. Through historical sketches on the roots of the industrial revolution; commentary on science, nature and society; descriptions of key design principles; and compelling examples of innovative products and business strategies already reshaping the marketplace, McDonough and Braungart make the case that an industrial system that “takes, makes and wastes” can become a creator of goods and services that generate ecological, social and economic value.

In Cradle to Cradle, McDonough and Braungart argue that the conflict between industry and the environment is not an indictment of commerce but an outgrowth of purely opportunistic design. The design of products and manufacturing systems growing out of the Industrial Revolution reflected the spirit of the day-and yielded a host of unintended yet tragic consequences.

Today, with our growing knowledge of the living earth, design can reflect a new spirit. In fact, the authors write, when designers employ the intelligence of natural systems—the effectiveness of nutrient cycling, the abundance of the sun’s energy—they can create products, industrial systems, buildings, even regional plans that allow nature and commerce to fruitfully co-exist.

Cradle to Cradle maps the lineaments of McDonough and Braungart’s new design paradigm, offering practical steps on how to innovate within today’s economic environment. Part social history, part green business primer, part design manual, the book makes plain that the re-invention of human industry is not only within our grasp, it is our best hope for a future of sustaining prosperity.

In addition to describing the hopeful, nature-inspired design principles that are making industry both prosperous and sustainable, the book itself is a physical symbol of the changes to come. It is printed on a synthetic ‘paper,’ made from plastic resins and inorganic fillers, designed to look and feel like top quality paper while also being waterproof and rugged. And the book can be easily recycled in localities with systems to collect polypropylene, like that in yogurt containers. This ‘treeless’ book points the way toward the day when synthetic books, like many other products, can be used, recycled, and used again without losing any material quality—in cradle to cradle cycles.

Karen Smart